Holyrood’s session four was the young Parliament’s most historic. It has fundamentally reshaped British politics forever and smashed a number of truths which made up the status quo.
Driven by the SNP and their growth to majority government at Holyrood and the third largest UK party by members and at Westminster, the independence referendum has and will continue to have significant repercussions for how Scotland and the UK is governed.
With five female party leaders and Presiding Officer in session four, Holyrood has also changed the appearance of British politics. Grayling looks at some of the defining moments of this Parliament.
The unexpected majority
“We’ve given ourselves the permission to be bold”, Alex Salmond
The 2011 Holyrood election was astonishing and unexpected. A sacrosanct maxim of Scottish politics was broken – majorities were supposed to be impossible. We now know they are merely improbable. The SNP did not expect this result either and with a pledge to bring forward legislation on an independence referendum included in their manifesto, they needed to re-adjust to give themselves the best chance of winning.
“I want to be the Prime Minister that keeps the United Kingdom together”, David Cameron
After the British success at the 2012 London Olympics, the SNP begun their campaign for Scottish independence in the autumn. The Edinburgh Agreement set the terms of the referendum and the legal right for Scotland to hold one.
Whilst the Scottish Government were able to include 16 and 17 year olds as part of the electorate for the vote, the UK Government succeeded in having a single YES/NO question on the ballot paper, rather than the popular third option of more powers. It was all smiles at St Andrew’s House, but this was just the start of heated exchanges between the two Governments.
“People are engaging in this debate that usually wouldn’t pay much attention to politics”, Nicola Sturgeon
The ‘Yes’ campaign went beyond all expectations and in the final weeks recorded a polling lead of 51 to 49. On being told the polling news, Alex Salmond told his Chief of Staff: “Geoff, it is a week too soon“. And so it proved to be. The Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat leaders mobilised and delivered ‘The Vow’ – the third option left off the ballot paper. Gordon Brown also stepped in to hold wavering Labour voters gravitating to Yes.
Scotland Votes No and The Fallout
“The millions of voices of England must also be heard”, David Cameron
Despite warnings from Alistair Darling that immediately after a ‘No’ vote would be the worst time to resolve the West Lothian question, the Prime Minister felt English Votes for English Laws needed to be addressed at the first chance. On the steps of No.10, he set out what would become the Smith Commission and the foundations of the new Scotland Bill.
“…tens of thousands of people who I predict will refuse to meekly go back into the political shadows”, Alex Salmond
The resignation of Alex Salmond as First Minister was a shock to many, but which was later seen as a politically astute move which cut the past away from the future and paved the way for Nicola Sturgeon. His comments too, were prescient. The support for ‘Yes’ set the path for a new Scottish electorate more stubbornly divided on constitutional lines, most evidently demonstrated at the 2015 General Election where the SNP took 56 of 59 seats.
“A working class girl from Ayrshire given the job of heading up the Government of Scotland”, Nicola Sturgeon
The Salmond era was over, but what would change under Sturgeon? She set her stall as a First Minister who would build a nation which was “both social democratic and socially just.” Her core remit is greater social justice and greater equality – in gender and opportunity – and promoting fair work principles.
In Government, it has proved more difficult to move from the centre and make more radical policy shifts in areas such as Council Tax reform. Based on current polling, she is set to receive a mandate leaving her unshackled to fulfil more of her vision for Scotland.
The Purse Strings
“We have secured no detriment now, and for the next six years”, Nicola Sturgeon
Whilst the Scottish Parliament has given its approval to the Scotland Bill, the House of Commons and House of Lords still have to finish their tinkering. Although the Scotland Bill made reasonable progress following the Smith Commission agreement, the Fiscal Framework – designed to provide the funding formula between the UK and Scottish Government – proved to be more difficult to negotiate.
Whilst initially backing full fiscal autonomy, by sticking to the ‘no detriment’ principle the SNP then argued to ensure the ongoing pooling and sharing of resources across the UK. The agreement means that part of the growth in devolved tax revenues across the rest of the UK will continue to be redistributed to Scotland – at least for the first six years.